The Inkblots by Damion Searls – Book Review

Drink, oh eyes, all your lashes can hold / Of the golden abundance of the world.

An important man in psychological history loved dearly these lines by Gottfried Keller.

If you were a psychology major, like myself, you’ve heard the names Freud, Jung, Milgram, Skinner, and perhaps even Rorschach. You may even have staunch opinions on their theories. No one ever told me, however, what they thought of each other and their work. I never was told that B. F. Skinner was a total snob about the Rorschach inkblots, nor about the strange feud surrounding Freud and Jung, as they pushed aside a smart man you’ve never heard of.

If you are a regular citizen of the world, like myself, you’ve heard of The Nuremburg Trials, Andy Warhol, and Ray Bradbury. No one ever told me, however, how each of these were deeply connected to the inkblots in some way.

 

The Inkblots, by Damion Searls, is no boring account of a stuffy psychologist. In fact, the decidedly not stuffy Hermann Rorschach dies halfway through this thorough non-fictional account. I reacted to his death like I would a character in a novel. It hurt. But Searls didn’t end there.

 

At first, I took a little while to get into reading The Inkblots consistently. (Sleeping on the train home almost always feels like the right choice, at the time.) But every time I did force myself to read, I was completely absorbed. This book, with as much information as a textbook, if not more, was anything but dry. Searls categorizes himself as a word person, and this shows in his writing in the best way.

 

By the halfway point, I was happy to cuddle back up with this thick book when I could. It made me miss being a psychology student. The familiar faces I “knew” in college of Jung, Freud, Rorschach, and Skinner came back into my life. More importantly, I have a newfound respect for Hermann Rorschach – no longer a weirdo with some pictures, in my mind.

 

Searls paints a portrait of the inkblots through history, from the events that led to their conception, all the way through the author’s own experience taking the Rorschach test today. In narrating the history, he takes the reader on an emotional journey. I found myself rooting for the original integrity of the inkblots as Rorschach intended them.

Finally, I was struck by the sheer impact of one man’s (short) life’s work.

From war crimes, to treating patients, bitter controversy, to pop culture, the inkblots have been used and abused by humanity. To know the story of the man, and the roller coaster of his legacy, opens our eyes to the deep human ability to change the world, in all it’s ‘overabundance.’ I think that’s what Rorschach would have wanted his biography to teach us, after all.
Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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